Saturday 31 August 2019

Ride London to Brighton off-road - the easy way

Everyone likes to be out on the South Downs Way
Many people know of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) London to Brighton charity bike ride, a 54-mile (87km) road ride from Clapham, through country lanes in Surrey and Sussex. The BHF also organises a London-Brighton off-road ride in September.

This is a little more challenging as it's a 68-mile (110km) practically all off-road. In the past I have ridden from Guildford to Brighton via the Downs Link and the South Downs Way in the past and that took a few hours.

A full London to Brighton off-road bike ride could be quite daunting, and you can take all day to do it. If you want to get to Brighton but without doing something so onerous how about riding to this seaside town via a few mountain bike trails within two or three hours.

You can ride to Brighton if you let the train take some of the strain and travel to the edge of the South Downs. Then get onto the South Downs Way and ride from there. You can pick up refreshments at Hassocks and Falmer. There's also an ice cream van at Ditchling Beacon.

That's what I did over the Bank Holiday weekend. It was a pleasant ride which was a good bit of exercise, though was not scarily technical.

So I got on the train at East Croydon and took the 40-minute train ride to Hassocks. From there it was a short ride to the hamlet of Clayton. When I stepped out of the train station it wasn't easy to work out which way to go, and for a moment I began cycling towards London! Eventually I found the route to get towards the South Downs, which quickly came into view.

Atop the Downs were the pair of windmills known as Jack and Jill, looking quite resplendent up in the distance. What was scary was the notion that I would have to get up to those windmills which stood about 200m above me.

Jack and Jill Windmills as seen from the path from Hassocks
The means of getting up there was via a bridleway which at first sight looked innocuous. As I began to twiddle up the path some walkers coming down it wished me good luck.

Shortly afterwards, the lane rounded the bend and I very quickly understood why I needed luck. After a little preamble on a smooth chalky path, the surface became rutted and strewn with stones. More importantly the gradient shot up like a wall - well it might as well have been a wall - the slope was over 28%!

Needless to say I could not ride it. When the gradient is that steep over uneven ground I get nervous about the front wheel lifting up, and worry about losing control and falling over. My cleats were a bit sticky as well, which didn't help matters either.

So it was safer to wheel the bike. I felt no shame in having to do that. Soon, the bridleway too me onto a grassy hillside, where many people were lounging in the sun and having picnics on this warm afternoon.

By now, the pair of windmills were close by, so I took the opportunity to photograph them while having a breather.

Taking a breather after a steep steep climb up onto the South Downs
The route then continued along a narrow lane that was less steep, but I had to wheel my bike as there were a number of walkers so it wasn't practical to cycle.

Eventually, the path opened out onto a wide area and I was officially on the South Downs Way. From here onwards the gradient went from excruciatingly steep to just regular undulations - which was a relief. However, there was no room for complacency on this hot, sunny afternoon. The constant rises and falls on this grassy, and sometimes chalky terrain was still sweaty work.

From here I enjoyed beautiful views of the Sussex countryside to my left and right, with the added bonus of a lovely sea view of Hove and Brighton. When the sun shines on the Downs I really feel like this is the place to be.

The cows seemed to be happy too, as they watched me cycle by. I did note that one of the bulls did have a happy moment with one of the cows so maybe that's why they were in buoyant mood!

All the walkers I saw seemed to be in a happy mood too. They said hello as they passed me, some making comments about how it must be hard work to cycle over the moorland. They had a point, but twiddling in an easy gear was all I needed to do. There was nothing navigation to do either because the trail was clearly waymarked. Also, as the terrain was dry there was no need to worry about sliding over on the chalky surface.

My route to Brighton went from the Jack and Jill Windmills, through Ditchling Beacon and then over to an area called Black Cap, level with Plumpton. From there I left the national trail and followed a bridleway towards Falmer and the Amex Stadium to make my way towards the coast. It was a very nice descent through desolate areas and I had the trail all to myself.

MOD Festival on Brighton Promenade
Then at the end of the trails through the South Downs ended when I reached Ridge Road, where I joined the Brighton and Hove Albion football fans on the trail to get over to Woodingdean. That was probably the most challenging part of the ride as I had to ride past lots of football fans on this trail that was a 2-mile steady climb.

Given that Brighton had lost at home 2-0 to Southampton their fans were still surprisingly upbeat, and were quite obliging about giving way to me when I tried to ride through the crowds.

On reaching the racecourse it was a case of another fast descent to reach Brighton Marina, and then I knew I had arrived.

Eddie and his tunes
Down on the promenade there was a MOD festival going on, though it looked like I had missed the main event. At least DJ Eddie Lovebus was still out, happily spinning some tunes. What a treat!

Here's the route I recorded on Strava.

Related posts
Ride from London to London-by-Sea (aka Brighton!) off-road

Festive 500 - Rail trails in England - Day 3

Rail trails galore!

More running on the South Downs

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